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Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan


Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

How exciting to receive the new novel by Nancy Horan, whose first novel Loving Frank was such a sensation six years ago.

This time she has turned to Robert Louis Stevenson for inspiration and woven a brilliant tale of adventure and romance into a new novel, Under The Wide and Starry Sky.

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We meet first Fanny Osbourne, her daughter Belle and her sons Sammy and Hervey. They have travelled from California, across the United States, and in 1875 they arrive in Antwerp. Belle and Fanny are to study art for a year – but Fanny’s intention is to use this as a means of separating from her husband.

I must say that the first 40 or so pages of this novel, with the melodrama of Fanny’s early life, left me wondering what on earth I was reading. It was not until Chapter 9 when Fanny and her family arrive in the south of France and Robert Louis Stevenson finally appears that I became more interested in the story. But, we had to know about Fanny’s past in order to move forward so be assured that if you are finding the beginning of this novel a bit eye-rolling it is very much worth carrying on.

Robert Louis Stevenson – known as Louis – is one of a group of young men who come together to paint and write, converse and carouse, at the small inn where Fanny is in residence. Prepared to abhor the American intruders the men find themselves instead smitten with both mother and daughter. 

I really knew nothing of the life of Robert Louis Stevenson, except that he descended from a family famous for the lighthouses they built, and of course I knew him as the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island and Kidnapped. knew A Child’s Garden of Verses, a book I grew up on, my favourites Bed in Summer, and The Land of Counterpane written as Louis reflected on the many times he was sick in bed as a child. The sickly child would grow into a tall and thin young man who would always experience periods of illness but had a wild love for life.

It is Fanny Osbourne who captures the heart of Louis and becomes his companion for the rest of his life. Louis is an intense young man –always writing. Fanny who has artistic inclinations of her own finds she cannot achieve her own ambitions if she is to look after Louis – and that must be her choice. If Fanny had become the wife of a well to do businessman she perhaps would have become an accomplished painter or writer – she at least would have been able to follow her creative whims. But, as is so often the case, there is only room for one artist in this family – and it is Louis.

Louis and Fanny live quite an eventful life as it turns out. They travel in search of place where Louis can live in peace and health – and find that place in Samoa where they live for the rest of his short life. “What is really necessary in life? A blue bay to gaze on. Sun.”

I very much enjoyed reading about the development of the stories written by Robert Louis Stevenson, he wrote constantly, reading aloud to his wife and family as he developed his novels. The way of life of this writer was one of choices made always to ensure that the writing came first. Late in his life Louis thinks, “In the end, what really matters? Only kindness. Only making somebody a little happier for your presence.” His desire is to be buried under the wide and starry sky, the same stars over all of us in life and in death.

 

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